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  • What It's Like to Wait in Line in Southern Italy

    Trust me, you must have a strategic plan and a dash of creativity to get anything done in the Boot
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    To wait in line for anything in southern Italy is to be at Toys R Us on Christmas Eve trying to pick up the "it" toy of the season. It is Nonna's house when there is only one meatball left in the pot. Indeed, it is one of Dante's circles of hell.

    You might think I'm exaggerating. Alas, I'm not. Upon arriving at Capodichino Airport in Naples, Italy, you will understand. Recently, my 5-year-old son and I arrived there with other Americans. We had traveled on a direct flight from New York. Literally, everyone stepped into another world immediately. It was 6:30 a.m. or so local time on a Sunday. For anyone who doesn't know, Sunday is for pasta and family in southern Italy. A few people still attend church. Even fewer actually work.

    This meant that few workers were in the airport when we arrived. In fact, at first, we didn't see any aside from the air traffic controllers on the ground when we descended. Hello, culture shock!

    To be honest, I once arrived in Naples this early and walked right to the luggage carousel without ever having my passport stamped. There was no one there. Crazy town! Things have changed in recent years, grazie Dio. Now, my passport always gets stamped. But the people who joined me for the 8-hour flight become a herd of wild horses. There's pushing, shoving, and no organization whatsoever. There are signs for those with EU passports and signs for foreigners. But the wild horses are running like the wind with no idea about where to go.

    This time around, I kept a tight grip on my son's hand, and I began answering questions of the Americans. They were angry that the people to check passports were not at their desks yet. They wanted to know why no one was there to corral the wild horses.

    That's when the Italians among us began navigating the line with stealth. They sensed our fear. With every complaint an American had, an Italian would say, "Si, si." Then, they would jump in front of us. One of their kids would roll over an American's foot with baby luggage. The American would get distracted, and next thing you knew mamma and papa' were suddenly at the front of the line. Truly, it's impressive.

    I and every other American were the last ones through the gate. I've accepted this as my fate in southern Italian lines. The grocery store is the same story. I don't even try anymore. It gets too nasty for my blood. I just hang back until the others clear out. And I try to go to the store as early as possible, long before the crowds arrive. If I can't go early, I wait to go with my husband, a native Italian. He knows how to handle the line. He guides me by the arm. Making friends with the people can work in your favor, too. I have become a local (at least at certain points in the year). So, the cashiers and some of my neighbors know me. They know I'm American and the line frenzy is not my thing. They'll let me go in front of them if I have only a few groceries. Or at least they'll push me with a smile. Frankly, that's all an American girl can ask for.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 7/10/17


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